An asylum seeker has said being inside an immigration removal centre is a form of “kidnapping” and “modern slavery”.
Alice is one of about 300 women held at Yarl’s Wood, where people with disputed immigration status can be detained without a defined time limit.
Almost three quarters of those held at the centre in Bedfordshire are returned to the community in the UK.
The Ministry of Justice said Home Secretary Sajid Javid was “committed to exploring” alternatives to detention.
Alice, whom the BBC has chosen not to identify, legally came to the UK to visit family after fleeing her home country in west Africa where she said her life was under threat.
She claimed as a widow she was considered cursed by her community.
Since her visitor’s visa expired about eight years ago, she has been applying for legal status but has claimed she was taken advantage of by several lawyers.
In late 2018, police found her without a passport and she was taken to Yarl’s Wood, where the BBC interviewed her.
Alice said since being at the centre, which she labelled as like hell, she had faced racial abuse, including other detainees telling her to “go back to the jungle and eat your banana”.
“The staff will not do anything until someone is dead,” she said.
“It is not a place for a human being. People leave here with more problems than when they came.”
The latest inspection report, in 2017, stated concerns over the “continued detention of women who had been tortured” and last year detainees protested against “inhumane” conditions by going on hunger strike.
Alice said her room “smells like sewage” and the food was “so horrible I stopped eating it”.
“The food we get, we can see the expiry dates; even the milk has gone off.”
She has since been released from detention after six months back into the community to continue the immigration process.
Human rights group Movement For Justice has been campaigning for UK detention centres to be closed down and said “processes exist for all these cases to be done in the community”.
“Mental health [for detainees] is jeopardised and cannot be treated inside detention, because it’s being trapped there that is causing the problem,” it added.
A Home Office spokesman said “detention is an important part of the immigration system” and that “significant improvements” had been made.
He said: “The Home Secretary has made clear he is committed to exploring the alternatives to detention, increasing transparency around immigration detention and further improving the support available to vulnerable detainees.
“The latest inspection report for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre found that standards at the centre had ‘improved significantly’ including a number of initiatives that had been introduced to improve support for residents.”